Thursday, February 2, 2023


Campground Crowding: They counted, and 70% of reserved sites were empty!

By Nanci Dixon
More people than ever are taking up RVing. These newbies have determined that RVing is the safest way to travel in our pandemic times. The result is campground crowding like never before. In this weekly blog, RV Travel readers discuss their experiences. Maybe we can make some sense of this and find ways to work around the problem.


Geez, I guess I have been sheltered staying at a mountain regional park in Arizona with our only view of the mountains, cactus in abundance, an occasional horse riding through and our fire pit for the last six months! This is day one in an Arizona State Park in the middle of the week and it is solidly booked. Every single campsite is full. There are not even the empty no-show sites I have been reading about. I’m glad the sites are at least spaced well apart. Even though I was aware, particularly from our reader’s comments and from booking our own travels for the next four months, I was not prepared for a totally booked mid-week campground. Yup, it is really crowded out here!

Here are a few observations from our readers.


Maybe I should be more like reader Dana E., who plans, plans, plans and doesn’t worry about if there is a campsite available due to campground crowding – they’ll find one!

“Regarding how the ‘new campground crowding issues’ affect our camping plans: My husband and I are fanatical, MANIACAL, planners. Some might call us nutty. We make our arrangements the moment our destinations (and all stops along the way) are available for booking, much of the time a year in advance. I envy those that can be spontaneous…going whichever way the wind blows. But, I think our OCD-like ways are paying off at times like this. We had amazing trips to Florida and Wyoming recently, and have a Colorado trip in June, and a Michigan trip planned for September. So far, so good.”

Ron S. also plans well ahead: “I found I have to make reservations for State Park campgrounds as soon as the reservation window opens, typically 6 months prior to the arrival date. Good, private campgrounds require almost the same tactics. It’s getting very tough to book impromptu RV trips if you want to get a State Park site with at least electric hookups.”


Linda L. has a positive spin on full-time residents in RV parks: “We do have to book ahead because of the many campers out there. But especially for the public places, you get great information on their booking sites and therefore fewer surprises after a day of driving. We are in our 70s, so maybe we’re less adventurous. We have had to be flexible on dates and destinations. As to campgrounds with full-time residents, we’ve found them very friendly. They don’t go anywhere, so I think they’re glad to meet new folks!


Richard H. had a good reminder for everyone booking far ahead and then their plans change: “Seeing so many articles (like this one – again) and posts about people booking RV reservations well ahead – throughout the year – my strong recommendation to all of you who have made reservations: PLEASE CANCEL them if you cannot get there. During our travels, we found that virtually all National Park CGs, which required reservations, had a huge number of no-shows. Easy to spot because in most of these CGs they have a little placard attached to the Post by each site, displaying the name of the reservation and the reserved dates. So we know when someone is supposed to be there. Easy to count the no-shows as we walked/drove throughout the CG each evening and morning to see which sites remained empty. By our count in many CGs – as many as 70%!

“Understand that travel plans will change for many, especially with reservations made 6 months earlier, but it is extremely disrespectful of other campers to not cancel and free up your reserved site if you cannot come. It appears that the cost of the unused reservation may be trivial to you (you obviously have more $$ than I). But there are many RVers who travel spontaneously and enjoy the flexibility of ever-changing travel plans (based on changing weather, enjoyment/dislike of current site, learning of new places to go from other RVers, etc.).

“But back to the original point. If you make Campground reservations which you later cannot use – PLEASE CANCEL them! Other RVers will greatly appreciate it!”


Richard H. continues on with a number of suggestions for campground reservation systems:

“I believe the best CG system should employ a range of policies:
* Have a mix of reservable sites and FCFS (First-Come, First-Serve) sites in order to accommodate travelers of all types.

* Have no cancellation fees – as those only discourage those with reservations to cancel. Give reservees the ability to cancel their reservation (with a full refund) up to 2 p.m. of their 1st arrival day. And when they do so – that site should be opened up to FCFS arrivals throughout the remainder of the day.


* Remove the reservation – with no refund – if the reservee does not show on the 1st night and has not contacted the park about their change of plans. Would also be good to flag those no-shows in the National reservation system (such as so they can see who is abusing it.

* Designate an overflow area for those FCFS RVers who cannot get a spot when they arrive. Virtually all CGs we have visited have more than enough space on which to do this. We especially appreciated the Grand Teton Gros Ventre Campground last summer because not only were they entirely FCFS, but they also utilized the large amphitheater parking lot for overflow overnight dry camping. That policy really helped a lot of travelers. Wish more CGs would do the same.

* Do not use reservation systems that do not allow same-day reservations! Seen mostly in State Park reservation systems – this is just a crazy policy for traveling RVers. A number of times we have identified a park we would like to go stay at, but in accessing their online reservation system find that reservations must be made 1, 2, or even 3 days before arrival date! This policy makes no sense – at all. And it means the CG is losing a lot of $$ from leaving sites empty which might have been easily sold that night.”


Ron W. has changed his plans due to the current popularity of RVing. “My original plan was to buy a slightly used motorhome after Labor Day 2020, and RV full time. COVID-19 sure messed up that idea. Not only would end of the season deals be non-existent, but the rise in popularity of RVing would mean spontaneous camping would be a thing of the past. My new plan is to move west (from Minnesota) to escape winter and look into RVing a few years down the road.
Your newsletter is the best I’ve found online for RV info, and the only one I donated to. Thank you!”

Thank you, Ron! Positive comments like yours are what keep us going!

Now, some questions for you:

• Are you finding more and more campgrounds booked up? Or are you having no problem finding places to stay?

• If campgrounds continue to be crowded and RVing continues to become more popular, will it affect how or when you RV?

• Do you have any tips or secrets you’d like to share about finding campgrounds that aren’t as crowded?

Please use the form below to answer one or more of these questions, or tell us what you’ve experienced with campground crowding in general.

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.

Read last week’s Crowded Campgrounds column here


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1 year ago

The problem is people on average just are jerks now. They have tons of money so wasting 400+ on a reservation they never really planned to keep but they could talk about with their hipster cool kid rich friends is what they want. Even if I won the lottery I would never have the attitude these people have.

5 years of full time living and me and the misses are looking at selling our country coach magna we love and move full time to mexico.

If you say safety….. in the last year and a half my wife has been attacked by 3 dogs IN rv parks. Have been threatened with sexual violence 1 time and 4 times of physical violence for just walking down a public road…. all of these people were dog owners who were upset when we defended ourself from there off leash dogs growling and attempting to bite us. So instead of a sorry about our dog it’s swearing and threatening us. We currently have 2 lawsuits getting settled because of dog attacks.

The newbies have ruined rving

1 year ago

We are fanatical about making reservations, esp. since we have never boondocked. We have no solar or inverter. We like to know we have a site waiting for us when we arrive and not have the added stress of wondering if anything will be available. We have just completed planning a 7 week trip to Michigan (which we heard is insane in the summer) and reserved 14 campgrounds. We feel very relieved, esp. since some of the places we wanted to stay at were already filled.

1 year ago

I disagree with Richard H.’s comment about having no cancellation fees. When a site is booked there is usually a deposit made by credit card (the credit card processing company charges the vendor a fee) and when a cancellation is made there is also a charge by the processing company. In addition someone on staff has to take the time (in most cases) to process the reservation and handle the cancellation. I don’t believe these charges should be born by the campground. If this was the process imagine the number of reservations that would be made (make 3 or 4 for the same day since I am not sure how far I will drive that day) and then cancel the ones I don’t want at no charge to me.
The system is bad enough now, it would only be worse booking a site ahead of time.

1 year ago

Dh makes reservation months in advance. In fact, it took five or six campground calls to find a space in Moab, Utah.
As far as commercial campgrounds and cancellation fees, it would be nice to see that one can cancel by a certain and not have a fee. Things happen. Wish they would take that into consideration

Cheri Miller
1 year ago

I would sure like to join a group to contact State and Federal representatives to improve camp reservation systems. I just don’t have the energy right now to tackle this organization project myself. Nanci, your suggestions for improvement are spot on.

Tommy Molnar
1 year ago

Another issue we’ve found (even in one of our fave state parks here in NV) is when the park’s workers don’t bother to take down the “Campground Full” signs when the campground is nowhere near full. We’ve learned to totally ignore the sign and cruise in and find a spot. I guess they figure it will fill up anyway, so why bother worrying about changing the sign.  😠 

1 year ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

👍 Totally agree!

1 year ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

I’ve seen that too, like when ‘road construction ahead’ signs are not taken down.

1 year ago

We just got back from a 17 day trip, combining boondocking and using campgrounds. I pre-booked campground reservations if we were staying more than a night. We winged it at the other campgrounds (both county or city parks) calling the day before with no problems. We boondocked on the weekends and we found plenty of spaces available during the week. We used Harvest Host near Memphis, boondocked a night in Nashville, used a campground in the Smokey Mountains, a county run campground in NC, a city run CG in GA and a city run CG in TX. I’m a planner who likes flexibility and this seemed to work for us.

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